Gov. Robert Bentley on Monday ordered state agencies to use “all lawful means” to prevent the relocation of Syrian refugees to Alabama as he and other governors try to block the refugees because of fears that terrorists will slip in among them.
The governor signed the executive order a day after saying he would oppose any effort to locate Syrian refugees in Alabama.
“As Governor, the threat associated with allowing Syrian refugees to enter Alabama is too high, and I will not endanger the lives of Alabamians by allowing Syrian refugees to come into our beloved state,” Bentley said in a statement.
Bentley is one of several governors trying to hang out the “Not Welcome Here” sign, citing concerns about terrorism after the Paris attacks and reports that one of the terrorists may have crossed into France with refugees.
Immigration experts said a state governor does not have the legal authority to block refugees since the placement is done by the federal government. Bentley Communications Director Jennifer Ardis said there are health screenings and other services that state agencies provide to refugees in their resettlement process, and these would be prohibited by Bentley’s order.
The order specifically instructs the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Resources not to participate in resettlement. The order also directs the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency “to monitor and avert threats” if officials learn a Syrian refugee is living in Alabama.
So far, no Syrian refugees have been relocated to Alabama; some have been accepted in nearby states.
J.D McCrary, director of the Georgia chapter of the International Rescue Committee, said states can offer an opinion, but ultimately have no say in where refugees are located.
“State governments and governors can provide feedback, but ultimately the U.S. Department of State has the final decision,” McCrary said.
The Georgia group has helped resettle 59 Syrian refugees over the past two years. McCrary said the refugees are the victims, not the perpetrators, of violence.
“The refugees who are coming here are the ones that are fleeing this exact type of violence,” he said.
McCrary said the refugees go through an extensive vetting process that can take years.
President Barack Obama‘s administration has pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees, saying the U.S should do more to help those fleeing terrorism.
Alabama takes in a low number of refugees overall compared to other parts of the country.
The state took in 107 refugees in fiscal year 2014, one of the lowest numbers of any state, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Only five states took in a fewer number of refugees that year.
Refugees tend to be relocated to places where they have existing family, or community members, to help them, McCrary said.
Monsignor Michael Farmer of the Archdiocese of Mobile said the church’s refugee charity has not been asked by the federal government to help with Syrian refugees.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.